Steamboat Springs Cari Hermacinski had to bang her gavel Tuesday night to get a passionate crowd quiet enough to talk about potential changes to city noise regulations.
And that was before the discussion even started.
In a heated debate that brought many to the Centennial Hall lectern and, at times, bordered on incivility, Steamboat Springs City Council conducted a public work session to discuss whether to move forward with changes to allowable noise levels and how they’re regulated.
The end result of Tuesday night’s discussion was that City Council will conduct another public work session before an ordinance enters the formal city review process.
The crowd that packed Centennial Hall largely was in support of either no noise ordinance at all or an ordinance that set allowable decibel levels higher than what is proposed, and higher than standards set by many cities and resort communities.
Bar owners, bar workers and members of the public expressed concerns that changes to noise regulations — even though what’s proposed is more lenient than noise laws Steamboat has had for decades — would damage the city’s entertainment industry and nighttime economy.
“If you make a mistake on this, you will kill Steamboat Springs for a long, long time,” said Ghost Ranch Saloon co-owner Jean Sagouspe, drawing applause from much of the crowd.
Sagouspe and fellow co-owner Amy Garris were central to Tuesday’s discussion. Ghost Ranch has heavily advertised a local campaign, Keep Steamboat Cool, which promotes opposition to noise ordinance changes. Hermacinski and Councilman Jon Quinn strongly criticized the campaign Tuesday, saying it is spreading false information and using fear tactics about an ordinance that city staff and council members have said has no intention whatsoever of shutting down businesses or nightlife.
Hermacinski pointed out Tuesday that Garris came to City Council in October and asked the city to revise its noise ordinance to provide more clarity for business owners. Hermacinski repeatedly tried to focus Tuesday’s discussion on potential solutions rather than criticisms and complaints.
“What’s the solution, other than hiring a PR firm to spread around a bunch of misinformation?” Hermacinski asked Garris, taking a shot at Keep Steamboat Cool.
Garris replied that she doesn’t have “a bunch of money to hire a PR firm,” and said Ghost Ranch has spent $700,000 on soundproofing efforts.
Sagouspe also cited his investment in the downtown bar and music venue, which was cited for a noise violation in summer 2010.
“I spent $4.5 million providing something, and I spent $700,000 extra that I didn’t have to spend, and all that I’ve gotten is harassment,” he said.
Proposed changes to city regulations would increase the allowable level of nighttime noise in commercial areas and decrease the amount of hours designated as nighttime, while affirming the potential for continued violations to impact a business’s liquor license.
Current city regulations define nighttime hours as 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. The draft ordinance proposes nighttime hours from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.
Revisions assess a minimum fine of $250 for a business’s first violation, $500 for the second and $999 for the third violation and beyond.
Local noise debates intensified in summer 2010 and have continued through fall and winter, involving business owners and residents downtown and near the base of Steamboat Ski Area.
Capt. Joel Rae of the Steamboat Springs Police Department said the current ordinance is nearly unenforceable and that officers need better regulations.
“We need something that is 100 percent enforceable and clear to our officers,” Rae said.
“We need a solution sooner than later.”